While touring Thailand last month, I made several attempts at mastering the art of creating a meal off the various “street food” offerings on a virtual fleet of little carts blocking sidewalks everywhere, even inside shopping malls. Unlike the popular tourist sites in Thailand, street vendors rarely speak a word of English, and my Thai cannot be trusted with something as important as ordering lunch.
I grew up in rural Kentucky and I have vivid memories of what all goes into pork sausage and hamburger. I don’t think about cow’s lips when I am eating a cheeseburger or a pig’s snout when I enjoy sausage at breakfast, but I know that they are in there. So, I look for the pieces of chicken, pork, beef, or fish that are familiar to me among the street food carts but oddities like fried crickets are easier to find. The things that are disguised by being run through a meat grinder in the USA are proudly on display on the street food carts in Bangkok, which, after a few weeks, almost convinced me to become a vegetarian.
My Thai friends certainly noticed what I didn’t eat but no one tried to force insects or entrails on me. And I got to a point of not having to look away when they enjoyed such delicacies. There are things that are disgusting to us when they are foreign or when they do not match with our learned appetites; and yes, our appetites are learned. What makes eating cows, chickens, pigs, and fish “normal” but eating other animals obscene? Nothing. It is just a learned prejudice. I grew up around people who ate deer, opossums, squirrels, and goat testicles, I just didn’t join in. And since there are evidently never enough testicles to go around, no one complained about those of us who would just rather not.
My point is that the mere fact that you have a viscerally negative response to something does not inherently mean that your instincts operate like a moral supreme court for what is right and wrong. Your felt reaction to the differences in other people is just a function of your learned preferences.
I still think that eating insects is disgusting. The good news for me is that no one is forcing me to eat them so why would I try to make the people who do eat insects stop eating them? In fact, I can say, at this juncture of my life, some of my favorite people in the world eat fried crickets regularly. I won’t ask them to stop eating crickets and they don’t ask me to start eating them.
I’m going to a drag show tomorrow night at my community’s best known gay bar. I’m going with the same lesbian friend who first took me to a drag show there about 20 years ago when I learned that I not only don’t enjoy drag shows, but I am confused by the whole proposition . . . gay men are sexually attracted to other men, not to women, so why do they get so excited about seeing men rather convincingly dressed up as women? Ignore the double entendre when I tell you that I have never been able to get a straight answer to this question. I didn’t stay long the last time I went to a drag show, but I am going to do better tomorrow night because I am going there with a purpose.
The terrorist who went into the Q Club in Colorado Springs last weekend, killing five patrons and injuring more than a dozen others, did so not just to kill LGBTQ+ people on that Trans Day of Remembrance, but to scare queer folk everywhere and to make people afraid to go to the gay bars that had become known as safe gathering places for people who were not always welcome in local churches, mosques, and synagogues.
The only way that such deranged terrorists can be successful is if we join forces in their cause by agreeing to be terrorized. If we refuse to be afraid, then terrorism becomes toothless and meaningless. There are myriad reasons why trans folk often feel isolated in a world in which they are surrounded by hostile cisgender people. After all, allies and advocates look just like the insanely prejudiced and religious fanatics. The only way to demonstrate our acceptance and love for our trans relatives, neighbors, and friends, is to show up and be counted among them in times like these. And buying some food and drink in the establishments that have offered a safe haven to the LGBTQ+ community would be a good thing to do right now as well. We don’t want these important safe places to go dark out of fear.
I am not likely to become a fan of either fried insects or drag shows, but I do love the people who eat the crickets and the men who wear those rather big wigs. After all, I don’t have to participate to advocate, and I sure don’t want to passively allow the terrorists to win.
Oh, and P.S., a trans friend who read my rough draft offered this bit of illumination: As for your question/confusion, my understanding of drag performance/culture and people’s enthusiasm over it is that it is not primarily about sexual attraction. It is about purposely transgressing gender roles and rules in a way that emphasizes pageantry, beauty, daring, imagination, playfulness, etc.
A drag show is a powerful way of demonstrating how gender and sexuality is always a performance, making explicit what often passes invisibly in our culture. It is a chance to defy, play with, tear down, and transform those cultural and social expectations in a safe and empowering community space.
That can be very attractive and even sexually exciting to some, but, in my experience, that is (a hopefully pleasant) side effect, not the purpose.